Driving Torque

Articles, reviews and opinions about cars and all things automotive

Driving Torque’s new, shiny look.

Hello to all my lovely followers.

Driving Torque’s been under the knife recently and has undergone a whole new look and way of working.

Because of this, I’d be very grateful if you’d follow this link; http://drivingtorque.com/ and click ‘subscribe’ to continue receiving updates from Driving Torque.

Thanks in advance, and I’ll see you on the other side.

Ben Harrington

Driving Torque

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Ford Fiesta 1.0l EcoBoost Zetec Powershift – Driven and Reviewed

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An automatic Ford Fiesta. My engrained reaction to this would usually be one of disdain, with just a splash of derision. Auto ‘boxes have traditionally been the reserve of the more senior driver and large, officious type vehicles, being driven by large, officious type people, in their large, officious type business suits, eating their large………you get the idea.

No more manual?

ford_fiesta_powershift_automatic_gearstickAll this could be about to change, though. Many people within the industry have referred to their crystal balls and predicted that the manual ‘box and it’s vice-like grip on the on the market may be coming to and end. Advances in gearbox technology such as double clutches like this one here, and CVT have seen the clutch pedal become slightly less common, even in Europe where we’ve subtly sniggered for years at the USA’s anxious aversion to ‘driving stick’.

If Ford have got it right, this ‘Powershift’ Fiesta should be as good as any more diminutive automatic car, then. The engine is their much-lauded EcoBoost three cylinder unit in 100PS guise; a power source that seemingly knows no bounds and marches on in its mission to change the world. The manual variant of this car is a world-beater; the Fiesta is Britain’s top-selling nameplate and with good reason (read the review here). Great place to start, then, but by taking away the need to change gear, have Ford lost anymore of the Fiesta’s appeal in the process? ford_fiesta_powershift_automatic_display

Refined and Smooth

The Powershift gearbox is refined enough; there’s no clunky, head-jarring up-changes, and it goes upwards from cog to cog with little fuss and in near silence. Higher gears are hung onto a touch too long when going back down through the range which takes a little of the fun out of cornering, but there is the option to change down yourself via a switch – this may detract from the point somewhat, though. Creeping slowly through traffic amplifies the nature of the three-cylinder engine, and there is a ‘put-put‘ feel under 5mph. Any quicker and the engine is as refined and characterful as usual, doing whatever’s asked of it dutifully. There’s even a ‘Sport’ mode available; select this and you’ll be amazed at how quickly 99bhp can propel what isn’t a tiny car anymore, whilst still giving a smooth ride.

Sounds Perfect!!……..

So, it’s business as usual with the trustworthy Fiesta, and you don’t even have to change gear yourself. Sounds too good to be true – surely every model will be this way from now on and the manual ‘box will soon become a thing of the past. Maybe not though – there are a couple of downsides to this added convenience.

………Oh

One age-old drawback of automatic ‘boxes was always the reduction in economy, and it still rings true here. Combined MPG drops from an impressive 65.7 to a slightly-less-so, 57.7, and CO2 rises from 99g/km to 114g/km. This, of course, takes the car into the realms of *shock-horror* paying VED, or road tax. Let’s put this into perspective here though; it’s still only in band C, which will lighten your purse by a measly £30 per annum, so nothing to lose any sleep over.

The addition of the auto ‘box isn’t the only reason for the Powershift’s drop in economy, though. The fact that it loses Stop/Start may not make that much of a difference in the real world, but it does affect things when the powers-that-be measure emissions. Ford themselves state that it’s not financially viable at this stage to add Stop/Start to the Fiesta but, for me, that’s not giving it a fighting chance. If the car proves popular enough, expect Stop/Start to suddenly appear further down the line.ford_fiesta_powershift_automatic_red_side

The other slight issue comes down to the price. With the manual ‘box, the Fiesta EcoBoost 5dr in Zetec trim is available from £14,195 at time of writing. Opt for this auto, and you’ll have to part with a slightly dizzying £15,445; that’s a very expensive gearbox, especially when it’ll also incur the extra running costs I mentioned earlier. It’s still cheaper than some of the competition such as the automatic Clio, but once you start adding extras to this Zetec trim, the price could easily get a little silly. ford_fiesta_powershift_automatic_red_rear

 

 

Automatic gearboxes are becoming more popular, there’s no doubt about it. For now, though, I feel that it comes at slightly too high a price in this Fiesta, both in terms of outlay and driver satisfaction. If you really need or want a smaller auto, this Fiesta is still a good proposition, but you’d have to really need or want one to forego the pretty-near-perfect manual.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Ford Fiesta 1.0l EcoBoost Zetec, Transmission – 6 speed automatic, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 99bhp, Torque – 170NM, Emissions – 114g/km CO2, Economy57.7mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 112 mph, Acceleration – 11.2s 0-62mph, Price – £15,795 OTR, £17,390 as tested

For full details, go to; http://www.ford.co.uk

New 2015 Ford Focus ST – First Drive

2015_ford_focus_st_yellow_hatchFord‘s ‘Global Performance Vehicle’ division seem to have gone into absolute overdrive recently. Just as the price of oil quite handily drops through the floor, hardly a week goes by when Uncle Henry isn’t taking the wraps off a GT, an RS, or in this case, two STs.

Diesel?!?!

The ‘normal’ ST picks up where the 2012 model left off, but for the first time ever, there’s also a Diesel Focus ST, and both of them are available in hatch or wagon flavour and the usual range of suitably eye-catching colours, including the somewhat divisive ‘Tangerine Scream‘.

The diesel unit has apparently been introduced following the success VW have been enjoying with their Golf GTD and Ford are expecting a clean 50/50 split between the two power-plant’s sales figures.  It’s visually a carbon copy of the 2.0l EcoBoost petrol models, so you lose nothing in that department. Thankfully the petrol and diesel even wear the same badge; it can’t have taken Ford long to realise that the ‘Focus STD’  legend just wouldn’t have worked……….

2015_ford_focus_st_estate_blackLess Torque-steer

First things first though, the ‘traditional’ petrol derivative: Its 247bhp is still channeled through the front wheels without the aid of their ‘RevoKnuckle’ technology, instead relying on a revised Torque Vectoring system to keep things straight and true. This seems to do its job well, and the ‘left-right, left-right’ sensation that the previous ST suffered from under rapid acceleration has been all-but eliminated. It’ll get itself to 62mph in 6.5 seconds, but only on a dry, sticky surface; show a lack of subtlety with the loud pedal on a wet road and the petrol ST will happily spin its wheels in third gear.

Thanks to the addition of Auto-Start-Stop across the range, the petrol ST’s efficiency has been improved by 6 per cent, getting a fairly impressive 41.5 miles out of a combined gallon of petrol, and only releasing 159 grams of CO2 per km.  If it’s economy that floats your boat, though, the new-kid-on-the-block will probably be more your thing………

The diesel ST’s performance figures aren’t that impressive on paper – 181bhp and 0-62mph in 8.1 seconds won’t get it into the Fast-Ford hall of fame, but that’s not the whole story. It only produces a fleet-friendly 110g/km Co2, and where the petrol engined car produces 360Nm of torque, the diesel trumps it with 400Nm, all of which is conveniently available from just 2000rpm. What this translates to in the real world is a six-gear car that could actually live with just two of them; first for pulling away from standstill and 3rd for the rest of the time.

Both cars channel noise into the cabin via a sound symposer, giving the driver a ‘proper’ hot-hatch experience. Don’t worry about the diesel sounding like a ball-bearing in an aerosol, though; there is the inevitable clatter at standstill but it develops into pretty-much exactly the same pleasant thrum as the petrol once you’re on the move.

2015_ford_focus_st_diesel_red_hatchImproved handling

There isn’t much to split the two ST’s handling characteristics either; the ribbon-smooth roads on our test-route around Barcelona can’t possibly give an accurate indication of how the car will fare on our pock-marked tarmac, but the petrol was as responsive and accurate as you’d expect, and there was none of the usual nose-heaviness one associates with diesel cars. A nice little surprise came when we discovered that both models are happy to stick the rear end out, especially the wagon.

Ford are keen to use analogy that the new Focus ST is a pentathlete; it may not be the best in the world in any particular discipline, but it does everything well. With the Focus RS looming heavy on the horizon, they had no choice but to show some considerable restraint with the petrol ST, but the diesel ST is a different matter; rather than water down the ST brand, it’s an admirable player in the performance diesel market and, on first impressions at least, is more than fit to wear the badge.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Ford Focus ST 2.ol EcoBoost turbo, Transmission – 6spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 247bhp, Torque – 360Nm, Emissions – 159g/km CO2Economy – 41.5 mpg combinedMaximum Speed – 154mph, Acceleration0-62mph – 6.5s, Price – from £22,195 (5dr), £23,295 (estate)

Specifications; Ford Focus ST 2.ol TDCI, Transmission – 6spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 181bhp, Torque – 400Nm, Emissions – 110g/km CO2, Economy – 67.3 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 135mph, Acceleration – 0-62mph – 8.1s, Pricefrom £22,195 (5dr), £23,295 (estate)

For full details, go to; http://www.ford.co.uk

Vauxhall Adam Rocks Air – Driven and Reviewed

vauxhall_adam_rocks_air_gold_front

 

 

The Adam’s been a huge success for Vauxhall since its release in 2012 and has sold especially well here in the UK. A huge part of the car’s modus operandi was based on personalisation, with over 1 million combinations of options apparently available. This thrust it into the highly competitive area of the market that’s also occupied by the ubiquitous MINI and Fiat’s 500. Brave move.

A Little Fact

Here’s a little Vauxhall Adam based fact for you; it’s the only model in the current Vauxhall range that doesn’t end in the letter ‘A’. Feel free to use that the next time you’re on a first date or you really want to impress your mates down the pub. Alphabet based nuggets of information aside though, what is this new version – the Adam Rocks Air all about?

 

vauxhall_adam_rocks_air_sunroofRocks Air?

This Rocks Air is a quasi-SUV version of the Adam, complete with a little rise in ride height (15mm) and some rufty-tufty bits of plastic splashed liberally about the place. That explains the ‘Rocks’ part of the new title then, but what is the ‘Air’ bit all about? It’ll come as no surprise that it refers to the full length fabric sunroof that every Adam Rocks comes with. Don’t worry if you didn’t really want a soft-top though; it doesn’t impede rear visibility when it’s folded back like some similar models do, and the added noise it creates is barely detectable.

Vauxhall_adam_rocks_air_gold_side

 

 

They might only be for show, but I feel that the visual additions to the Adam Rocks really set it apart from the base model and give it far more road presence. I’m not sure what the extra 15mm ride height will achieve in terms of off-road ability, but where the Adam could get lost in a crowd, the Adam Rocks stands out, especially with the 18” ‘Twister’ wheels that our test car was shod with.

vauxhall_adam_rocks_air_door_handleRide Quality

These enhanced looks do come at something of a price though, and I don’t just mean financially. The whole setup has been adjusted and tuned to accommodate the loftier height and it’s left the Adam Rocks jittery on uneven surfaces; any bumps and potholes are felt throughout the whole car, irrespective of which wheel encountered them.

This particular Adam Rocks is powered by the same 1.0l, three-cylinder engine that so impressed us in the New Corsa recently, proving to be competent and refined in equal measures. It works just as well in the smaller Adam, as you’d expect, and when it comes down to triple-cylinder units that are so de rigueur at the moment, it really puts Vauxhall up there with the best.

vauxhall_adam_rocks_air_goldIt combines the best qualities of a three cylinder engine – decent economy and bags of character, with a useable torque curve and just enough restraint in the sound department to not be intrusive. Plus, it gets this Adam Rocks Air to the 60mph mark in a not-too-shabby 9.9 seconds

vauxhall_adam_rocks_air_boot_release

Simply press the Griffin, et voila…..

Luxurious Touches

Vauxhall as a brand aren’t really renowned for their luxurious little touches but that’s precisely what’s so satisfying about the Adam range as a whole.

Take, for example, the exterior boot release; not an element I usually get over-excited about but I feel it deserves special mention in this case. There isn’t a button or lever as such, one simply presses the boot’s entire Griffin badge and the bodywork depresses slightly, opening the boot.

Some of the prettiest dials I've encountered

Some of the prettiest dials I’ve encountered

The basic design and materials in the cabin are satisfying both in terms of aesthetics and quality. The rubber-look eye level plastics, user-friendly Intellilink infotainment system (£275 option) and large, circular air vents put the Adam Rocks ahead of much of the competition, but it’s the fabulous dials that seem to take inspiration from both the aviation and nautical world that pleased me most. A tiny spotlight glows behind the dials, following wherever the needles go, and when the stop/start kicks in, the tachometer needle doesn’t just drop to zero like most cars – it goes to an ‘Auto Stop’ position, leaving ‘Stop’ solely for when the ignition’s turned off. It’s these little touches that add an ‘air’ (excuse the pun) of exclusivity.

vauxhall_adam_rocks_air_interiorAt What Price Though?

The Adam Rocks Air’s premium look and feel does come with a premium price tag however; this exact car would set you back a whopping £20,335. It doesn’t have to be this way though; even with this highly desirable engine option that does suit the car so, the basic price is a far more reasonable £16,695. Or, if it’s just the show you’re after and the go element isn’t a priority, you can spec your Adam Rocks with their 1.2l unit, dropping the base price to £14,695.

There’s obvious flair, and equal amounts of care that’ve been put into the Adam Rocks Air’s design – both inside and out; show some restraint with the options list and you can end up with something that’s got enough taste and refinement to put any MINI to shame.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Vauxhall Adam Rocks Air, 1.0l 12v Direct Injection Turbo , Transmission – 6 spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 115PS, Torque – 170Nm, Emissions – 119g/km CO2, Economy – 55.4 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 121mph, Acceleration – 9.9s 0-62mph, Price – £16,695 OTR, £20,335 as tested

For full details, go to; http://www.vauxhall.co.uk/vehicles/vauxhall-range/cars/adam-rocks-air/overview.html

Suzuki SX4 S-Cross DDiS ALLGRIP – Driven and Reviewed

There seems to be an overwhelming requirement to pigeonhole everything these days, and cars aren’t exempt. Every brand has an underlying reputation of one type or another – some of a positive nature, others – slightly less so.

Suzuki SX4 S-Cross front and sideWhere do Suzuki stand?

But just where are Suzuki placed in the big, wide world of things; what direction would the stereotypical pub conversation turn towards if the subject was this slightly quirky Japanese marque? For years, my pub-bore fact about Suzuki has been that the Swift Gti of the ’90s was the quickest 1.3 on the market at the time, but anyone who has the slightest interest in off-roading will hold the extremely capable SJ410 and SJ413 models in very high regard as they were more than qualified to keep up with the likes of Land Rover and Jeep, despite their diminutive proportions. All of this brings us neatly round to what we have on test here; the difficult-to-put-in-a-niche SX4 S-Cross.

suzuki_s-cross_side_blueWhat exactly is an SX4 S-Cross, then?

It’s not an SUV in the truest sense of the word, it’s not even a small SUV like an EcoSport or similar, as the silhouette is more estate car than anything else. Estate car doesn’t quite cut the mustard either though – it’s more than that, thanks to an increased ride-height, some go-anywhere bits of chunky trim, and, in the case of our test car, the fact that all four wheels can aid propulsion (you’ll have to spec your SX4 S-Cross with ALLGRIP, though).

 

So, the SX4 S-Cross could be described as a slightly scaled-down Subaru Forester, and the obvious competitor in that particular little pigeonhole is the Peugeot 2008 – a car that we found to punch above its weight in most departments. suzuki_s-cross_noseYou’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’d describe the SX4 as beautiful, however much they like the car. The nose starts fairly close to the ground and then rises up over a slightly bulbous bonnet, with some cartoon-ish, oversized headlights dominating the rest of the front.

Practical enough inside – just think twice about that sunroof

Like the 2008, glazing is kept fairly sleek and minimalist with all five doors consisting of more metal, steering safely away from the ‘Popemobile’ look that does nothing to add appeal to any car. Thankfully, Suzuki have been sensible enough to raise the rear seating proportionately; there’s nothing worse than children getting bored or feeling sick because they can’t see out of the rear windows. If it’s fully sized humans that are going to be sat in the back seats, however, I’d make sure you stay well clear of the panoramic sun-roof. Pretty as it is, it eats into headroom too much and takes away from the SX4’s practical appeal. suzuki_s-cross_panoramic_sunroof

 

When it comes down to loadspace and headroom, pretty curves are the enemy and right angles are what’s required. The SX4 pulls off the clever trick of being conducive enough to fitting large objects in, without taking on the appearance of a Transit van. This basic shape, combined with a very useful dual-level boot floor and an 875 litre max capacity adds up to an eminently practical car that’ll fit in more than you’d probably warrant.

 

Inside the SX4, it’s a slightly less eye-catching affair than the exterior. There’s nothing wrong with what’s staring back at you from the dashboard per se and the materials used are of a high enough quality to not let the rest of the car down, there’s just a glaring lack of imagination and the whole thing’s a bit dull and uninspiring. That said, the standard Garmin infotainment system works a treat and does everything well, and the bright blue rings around the dials are a nice touch. Suzuki SX4 S-Cross interior

 

I doubt you’d have a problem getting comfortable whilst driving the SX4, whatever size or shape you come in; the seats are supportive and forgiving, and if you opt for a model with heated seats, you’ll be treated to the first ‘low’ heat setting I’ve found that genuinely means ‘low’ and won’t leave you wondering if your pants are about to combust.

Far more fun than you might expect

On the move is undoubtedly where the SX4 excels, and where Suzuki’s engineering prowess becomes apparent. The 1.6l Diesel unit in our test car may take an age to warm up (heated seats come into their own again here), but when it has, it’s responsive enough to the point of being really good fun – not something you’d automatically expect from this type of power plant. Throttle response from this Fiat-sourced engine is impressive and, although it may not be the most refined unit in the world, the handling is direct and honest. When combined, they have enough character to make the SX4 engaging and a bit of a hoot. Suzuki SX4 S-Cross rear light

 

This range-topping SZ5 model is absolutely packed to the rafters with standard kit including leather and auto lights and wipers, yet its £23,549 price tag may take some by surprise. I think this comes back to just where Suzuki stand in the market as, although they don’t have a reputation for building rubbish, £24K list prices aren’t necessarily what you’d associate with the brand either.

 

Suzuki SX4 S-Cross ALLGRIP system

 

The strange thing is, this still undercuts much of the competition, but Suzuki’s official figures state that the most popular spec is the SZ-T, which is priced at the £18 – £19.5K mark. It just doesn’t quite have the kerb appeal of the likes of the Qashqai or the Yeti, but when you’re paying under £20K for your S-Cross, I suppose it doesn’t need to. You still get one hell of a car at the mid-range level, especially if you can live without the ALLGRIP 4WD system; the snow mode may be reassuring for a week in January and it seems to work beautifully whilst being completely unobtrusive, but I think the majority of buyers would survive just fine without it.

Is it for me?

Overall, Suzuki’s SX4 continues the brand’s tradition of producing understated, quality items and you’d not find many faults with it at all. The 1.6 Diesel is a great engine and undoubtedly the one to go for, I’d just exercise a degree of caution with how much you spend on what should be a bit of a bargain.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Suzuki SX4 S-Cross, 1.6l DDiS, ALLGRIP SZ5, Transmission – 6 spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 120PS, Torque – 320Nm, Emissions – 114g/km CO2, Economy – 64.4 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 108mph, Acceleration – 13.0s 0-62mph, Price – £23,549 OTR, £23,979 as tested

For full details, go to: http://www.suzuki.co.uk/cars/cars/new/sx4-s-cross/sx4-s-cross 

Jaguar XFR-S – Driven and Reviewed

Jaguar_XFR-S_side_blueWith the release of the Mk11 in the late ’50s, Jaguar could easily be credited with the invention of the Q-car – otherwise known as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The XF is the spiritual successor to the Mk11, and this XFR-S is not only the fastest XF, it’s the sprightliest saloon car Jaguar have ever made. A Q-car it ain’t though. Just look at it; this is a wolf at a wolf-pride march, wearing a “CANIS LUPUS” T-shirt. With matching hat.

Gen-yoo-ine carbonfibre

Gen-yoo-ine carbonfibre

Potential buyers shouldn’t be put off by the rice-rocket-esque rear spoiler, though (it is carbon fibre, by the way), a far more subtle affair is a no-cost option. Our test car’s ‘Ultimate Blue’ hue might not be to your taste either, fear not – a traditionally discreet black can be ordered with the deft click of a mouse.

Matching bright-blue piping is available on the inside of the XFR-S, if your heart desires. But again, if it’s the more sombre side of owning a Jaguar that floats your boat, it can all be toned down to suit. The carbon fibre theme also continues with aplomb in the cabin, and that can’t be changed; it’s on the fascia and the pattern’s even stitched into the seats – not my taste, personally, but it’s dark enough to fade into the background.

Jaguar_XFR-S_side_badgeThe base XF’s interior was one of the class-leading aspects of the car on its release in 2007, with its cool-azure lighting and swivelly air-vents. That was over seven years ago though, and that’s plenty of time for the competition to catch up. The infotainment system looks a bit lo-res these days and we’ve become accustomed to moving knobs and buttons in this class of car – the vents just don’t wow like they used to. 

Jaguar_XFR-S_wheelThe Meridian sound-system that comes as standard never fails to impress, however. I’m occasionally underwhelmed with the ‘premium’ stereos that cars are fitted with – they just don’t seem to be set-up properly. Not so in this case. Loudness is nothing if the clarity and quality don’t match, but every aspect of this 825W Surround Sound system is impressive. A word of warning though; don’t be overly eager with the volume knob – you might just miss something very special………..

Beware, all who dare enter.....

Beware, all who dare enter…..

……….’What?’ I hear you cry. Well, the ‘heartbeat’ start button that could be considered something of a gimmick in lesser XFs becomes slightly more pertinent in the XFR-S; press it and the whole car comes to life with a jolt that’s reminiscent of a heart attack victim being jolted back from the light. The bark and crackle from the quad performance pipes is more Modena than Midlands, and I challenge anyone with a modicum of petrol in their veins to ever tire of finding a long tunnel, opened the windows and dropping down a cog or two.

Jaguar XFR-S bonnet louvreSo, what is the XFR-S like to live with? Well, let’s cut to the chase; one aspect that can’t be toned down, not that you’d want to, is the 550bhp, supercharged V8 that lurks underneath that power-bulged bonnet. This is one hell of an engine. Linked to the hugely popular ZF 8-speed ‘box that’s been peppered up a bit for the R-S, acceleration is life-affirmingly brutal, even in everyday ‘D’ mode. Put it in ‘S’ and the realisation of just how 550bhp feels with precisely zero delay between order and delivery may take you by surprise, as the instant surge towards the horizon is like no other car I’ve ever driven.

This car will spin its wheels for fun, and if the surface you’re on is anything less than sahara-dry I’d think twice before planting the loud-pedal. With no lag to consider, what you ask for is what you get and a hasty exit from a junction could result in some snaking and the unmistakable smell of burning rubber. There is, of course, a trade-off for this very useful performance, and that’s economy; with all eight cylinders and a supercharger constantly working, even Jaguar’s official 24.4mpg combined seems somewhat optimistic.

Jaguar XFR-S grilleThe good news is that this V8 beast’s drivetrain is fully prepared for what the engine can throw at it and it reins things in in an instant. Even in non-dynamic mode, the rear end steps out slightly but then comes back into line before you know it, leaving you looking and feeling like something of a hero.

What your waiting for?

What you waiting for?

Handling is point-to-point fantastic, especially in Dynamic mode, and you’ll soon forget that you’re in what’s ultimately an executive saloon on steroids. What’s quite surprising is how civilised the ride is when you’re not setting lap-times and you just want to get home in comfort. The revised suspension is a fairly considerable 100% stiffer than a standard XF, and those 20” wheels don’t look like they were designed with wafting in mind, yet the R-S is no bone-shaker and even negotiating speed-humps doesn’t result in the grimace-inducing sound of bodywork on tarmac that you might expect.

In a company with a history of fast saloons like Jaguar, the title of ‘fastest ever’ holds a large volume of water. At a shade under £80K, it’s not cheap – over £6K more than the more powerful M5. The question is, would the M5 make you smile as often as the R-S? Somehow, I doubt it.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Jaguar XFR-S, 5.0l V8 Supercharged, Transmission – 8 spd auto, Layout – Front engine, RWD, Power – 550bhp, Torque – 680Nm, Emissions – 270g/km CO2, Economy – 24.4 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 186mph limited, Acceleration – 4.4s 0-60mph, Price – £79,995 OTR, £81,795 as tested

For full details, go to; http://www.jaguar.co.uk/jaguar-range/xf/xf-models/xfr-s.html

Citroën C1 Airscape – Driven and Reviewed

Citroen_C1_Airscape_roof_open

 

 

The ‘A’ segment of the car market is absolutely awash with choice at the moment, with some cars on offer being more ‘A’ than others. If we’re using size as the main gauge for pigeonholing cars, the triumvirate of Aygo/108 and what we have here – the 3466mm C1 could quite easily be the yardstick of ‘A-ness’ that all future cars are measured by.

Sibling rivalry - the Peugeot 108

Sibling rivalry – the Peugeot 108

Which one?

We drove the C1’s sister car – the New 108 at its UK launch back in July and were impressed with its good blend of driver satisfaction and funky, customisable styling. So why would you pick the C1 over the 108 or the Aygo, and pertinently, over the rest of the competition out there?

Well, if you’re male is as good a reason as any I suppose. The 108’s advertising has placed it unashamedly in the sights of the female of the species, and its styling is fairly effeminate too. The C1 takes some styling cues from Nissan’s Juke with its large, circular main headlights and slashed ‘eyebrow’ sidelights, but this also gives it a more aggressive, testosterone-ey feel that’ll go someway towards providing Jonny Teenager with a bit more street-cred, a bit less of a ‘Mum let me borrow the car for the evening’ vibe.

Citroen_C1_Airscape_rearAnd with which engine?

This C1 we have is the range-topping Flair model, complete with Airscape full-length fabric sunroof and power being provided by the most pokey engine in the range – the 82bhp, three-cylinder PureTech unit. It’s what you could call a ‘characterful’ little engine, and it’s instantly recognisable as a three-cylinder with surprising levels of grunt low down that’ll find the C1 being propelled up to 70mph quicker than one might expect.

It’s not all good though; Ford and Vauxhall are two of the major marques who’ve gone to great lengths to make the three-cylinder engine popular again, and they’ve done so by making them more refined, less Eastern Bloc. This PureTech engine is still a bit too lumpy; the car shakes at standstill and a smooth getaway requires some real concentration to coordinate clutch and throttle pedals perfectly. Coupled with the sound insulation that’s lost though the Airscape’s fabric roof, you could well find yourself wishing you’d gone for the less powerful VTi engine (68bhp); I drove this engine in the New 108 and it is far easier on the senses.

Apart from that folding roof which does rob a couple of inches of headroom in the rear, every possible bit of space is utilised to full effect in the C1. The shape might not be the sleekest in the world, but there’s good reason for that – it’s ultimately very practical. A whole four-piece family fit nicely on the surprisingly comfortable seats and, as long as no attempts are made to practice your golf swing, you don’t feel like you’re sat on top of each other.

Citroen_C1_Airscape_interiorApp-ropriate

The fact is though, this car isn’t really aimed at people who are looking for a car to ferry their 2.4 children around Europe in; it’s more for short distances with a solitary user who are probably either female or youthful, or both. The interior reflects this fact, it’s not exactly weighed down with buttons and knobs, but the central 7 inch multimedia system is very clever and it’s tablet-like appearance is no accident. It’s called Mirror Screen and it’s designed to do what it says on the tin – mirror your smart phone, so that functions such as navigation and music are downloaded to your phone and can then be used when you drive your car.

Citroen C1 Airscape roof openAs nice as a full-length opening roof and a few touches of chrome might be, at nearly £12K without options, this ‘Airspace’ model in ‘Flair’ spec has priced itself out of the market. For that kind of money, you’d at least expect your rear windows to open properly, not just be the hinged affairs usually found in 3 door cars. It might be a touch dour in comparison and more B segment than A, but you can buy the excellent Ford Fiesta for under £10K at the moment. Or if its visual impact you’re after, the Fiat 500 and even the Vauxhall Adam are similarly priced.

However, when you take the base model C1 which is priced at a far more tempting £8,245, and that’s before Citroën’s legendary discounts are taken into account, it becomes a different proposition altogether and is well worth a look.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Citroën C1 Airscape Flair, Transmission – 5 spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 82bhp, Torque – 116Nm, Emissions – 99g/km CO2, Economy – 65.7 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 106mph, Acceleration – 11.0s 0-62mph, Price – £11,785 OTR, £12,680 as tested

For full details, go to; http://www.citroen.co.uk/new-cars-and-vans/car-range/citroen-c1

New Nissan Juke – Driven and Reviewed

new_nissan_juke_front_and_sideThe Original

Nissan’s Juke gave us something of a shock when it was released on an unsuspecting world over four years ago – in 2010. It wasn’t as if we’d not seen small SUVs before, but the Juke was something different; not only was it responsible for the emergence of a whole new type of vehicle – the ‘compact crossover’, but the way it looked was original and daring, to the point of being divisive.

Whichever side of the love/loathe fence you happen to sit on though, there’s no arguing with success, and the British-built Juke has sold in absolute droves – to the point that it’s now an every-day sight on most UK roads and its looks have inspired other manufacturers to ditch the dull, in favour of something a bit more bold.

After four years, it was time for an update to ensure things were kept as fresh as ever. Enter then, the New Juke – ta-daaaaaa. Ok, admittedly it’s not that different to the original, so this is more of a facelift than a completely new design, but the Juke has developed something of a cult status – to alter it beyond recognition would have been something of a shot in the foot for Nissan.

Subtle updates

There are some cosmetic alterations to the New Juke, mainly in the lights department. Both front and rear have seen a slight revision to keep them cutting edge – with LEDs being utilised and fresh, shapely lenses. Front and rear bumpers have also been treated to a going-over from the designer’s brush, with some new shapes and added aggression for the 2015 model Juke.

new_nissan_juke_rear_lightThe Juke’s interior still mirrors the exterior’s unconventional look, and there’s plenty of shiny plastic, moulded into distinctive shapes. They may look a little lacking in substance, but if you give them a prod, there’s no bending or flexing and everything feels screwed together well enough.

Perhaps the most important part of the New Juke is what you don’t see – a revised boot, raising capacity from 251 litres to 354, and also, what lurks beneath the bonnet.

New_nissan_juke_cabinThe Juke’s eye-catching styling has proved something of a bind in the boot-space department up to now. It would have been more practical to make its silhouette more angular and box-like, thus allowing the Juke to do a decent impression of a small van when the need arose. Because the Juke was always supposed to be more coupe-like, it’s lost out to its rivals in the field of load-lugging. A new raised floor has not only allowed the addition of an under-floor storage area, but it’s made loading and unloading larger objects a doddle. With the rear seats in their laid-flat position, our Juke swallowed an average size fridge with ease.

new_nissan_juke_sideNew Petrol Engine

So, boot capacity has increased, but quite contrarily, there’s now an engine option available that’s gone the other way. A new 1.2l turbo petrol unit can be opted for on 2wd models only; Nissan expect it to become the most popular engine across the range, as the trend seems to be away from larger Diesels, into smaller, lighter petrol-powered cars.

Our test car is fitted with a good old 1.5l Diesel unit though, and there’s a lot to be said for it. Nissan claim just over 70mpg on the combined cycle, and although this may prove a touch optimistic in the real world, there’s no disputing that it’s frugal enough. Its torquey too. I usually find that ‘change up/down’ indicators are overly keen to get a car into top gear, resulting in some laboured juddering and a forced gear drop. Not so with this engine. The indicator can sometimes be encouraging a lower gear when the engine’s 260Nm of torque is coping just fine with what’s being asked of it. Happy days.

new_nissan_juke_pure_drive_logoThe trade-off for this old-school Diesel economy and torque is unfortunately some very old-school clatters and rattles, especially on cold start-ups. This Renault sourced unit has been around for a few years now and it shows; in a world of increasingly hushed Diesel engines, this one does lack slightly in refinement. That said, the cabin is insulated well enough and if it’s economy and grunt that you’re after – this engine fits the bill perfectly.

The suspension has also been tweaked slightly in this New Juke, and at slower speeds around town, it’s comfortable and forgiving. Over less-than-perfect surfaces though, the ride still tends to become unsettled and skittish, making you feel like the tyres could do with a few less psi.

new_nissan_juke_front_lightIs it for me?

No matter how good the updated Juke is, if you didn’t like the look of the original, you’re not going to be enamoured with this one as Nissan have stuck pretty steadfastly to their recipe. A smaller engine, a larger boot and some subtle light alterations have kept the New Juke fresh and relevant against the rapidly increasing competition though, so if you’re in the market for this niche of car, the original might still be for you.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Nissan Juke 1.5l Diesel Acenta Premium, Transmission – 6 spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 110Ps, Torque – 260Nm, Emissions – 104g/km CO2, Economy – 70.6 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 109mph, Acceleration – 11.2s 0-62mph, Price – £17,865 OTR, £18,365 as tested

For full details, go to http://www.nissan.co.uk

Audi Q3 TFSI S line – Driven and Reviewed

Audi_Q3_Sline_interiorUsual Audi interior quality

Anyone who’s ever sat in any breed of Audi, of any description, or who knows someone who has, will be well aware that they know a thing or two about making interior spaces comfortable and inviting, and this Q3 is no different. Taking something like a car’s dashboard for granted is an easy thing to do – it’s not something people usually talk about, but when you look at the way the Q3’s is sculpted and formed to be as user-friendly and attractive as possible, it gives a very good indication of just how much importance Audi place on their living spaces.

It doesn’t end with a few nice shapes though – the tactile element of the Q3’s cabin is just as satisfying; I’ve pointed out before how important the feel of a steering wheel should be to manufacturers – it’s the part of a car your hands will come into contact with most often, by far. Run your hands over an Audi steering wheel, especially an S Line one, and it just feels right – such an obvious detail, and yet one so often overlooked.

Audi_Q3_TFSI_Sline_front_lightLet there be light……

Audi have also set the pace recently regarding illumination; they were the first manufacturer to feature DRLs (daytime running lights) – for a while, bright LED light signatures on any car were referred to as “Audi lights”. Their expertise in the field is mirrored inside the car also. Combining the usual white lights with their trademark red creates an atmosphere and ambience that’s unparalleled. Any photographer or interior designer will tell you that light can be your best friend or your worst enemy – depending on how it’s used; Audi get on very well with light.

Audi_Q3_TFSI_Sline_frontPanoramic glass sunroofs are another great way of adding light to any car and can make any small space feel more generous. If you’re going to spend £1,100 on the Q3’s optional roof , I’d just be a bit wary if anyone driving it’s over 6 feet tall. I use this height as the limit because that’s how tall I am and I just about got away with it with the seat on its lowest setting – anyone any taller will curse the glass roof as it does steal a valuable couple of inches of headroom.

…….and sound

Speaking of options though, at £690, the BOSE surround sound system is an absolute must. I’ve driven cars with far more expensive systems from equally impressive stereo makers, and been left completely underwhelmed. Not so the BOSE – it is absolutely sublime and, I think, a bit of a bargain.

Audi_Q3_TFSI_Sline_sideUpdate due soon

The Q3 will be updated fairly soon with a bit of a facelift and slightly revised engines  – you can have a look here; http://www.audi.co.uk/new-cars/q3/q3.html – but they’ll still be instantly recognisable as Audi’s smallest SUV (until the rumoured Q2 comes out soon, at least). They’ll also still utilise VAG’s PQ35 platform – it may not be as modern and ubiquitous as the MQB platform, but it performs admirably on the Q3. It handles the road with the minimum of fuss, achieving the objective of performing more like an A3 than a big, wallowy SUV when the tarmac comes over all twisty, even without Audi’s much-lauded Quattro system driving all four wheels.

Part of the New Q3’s facelift will involve, quite literally, a facelift, with the dominant feature – the Darth Vader/Hannibal Lecter/Hoover Dam ‘mouth’ being remodelled into something more 3D and slightly more subtle – very much in the style of the original Q3 from 2011. This shape Q3 is slightly front-heavy in the looks department, but when you add the larger wheels and other highlights that come with the S-Line spec that’s on our test car, it all balances out very well.

Audi_Q3_TFSI_Sline_leatherSmaller is better

The New Q3 will also come with some updated engine technology, the most frugal being a very clever, cylinder deactivating variant of the 1.4 TFSI petrol we’ve got here. Audi expect around one fifth of sales to be powered by their smallest unit, I’m thinking it’ll be a little higher. At 137g/km it produces Diesel rivalling levels of CO2 and slots into tax band E, yet at the same time, it’s genuinely good fun to drive. Sub 10s 0-60 times aren’t anything to write home about, but the way this Q3 is geared, combined with that beautifully weighted chassis, makes for a hugely satisfying driving experience. An unexpected bonus is the fantastic burble from the exhausts when you hit 4000rpm; I really wasn’t expecting it but the tones that resonate through the cabin just add to the sense of fun.

If you still need convincing to swap a larger oil-burner for this TFSI petrol, can I just throw in the fact that it’ll cost a whopping £3,900 less than its nearest priced alternative. £4K is not to be sniffed at and it quite conveniently keeps the Q3 more wallet-friendly than some other manufacturer’s alternative, namely the Range Rover Evoque.

Audi_Q3_badgeWhat does it all add up to?

Sometimes, every once in a while, you put all the correct ingredients together and life has a really vexing way of messing the recipe up, with no explanation offered, leaving you with a right dog’s dinner where should have been a masterpiece.

Conversely, sometimes the opposite occurs and what, on paper, shouldn’t turn out to be anything particularly special is actually pretty wonderful.

I think it’s called equalling more than the sum of its partsand this fairly run-of-the-mill Audi Q3 is a superb example of such an occurrence.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Audi Q3 TFSI S line, Transmission – 6 spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 150Ps, Torque – 250Nm, Emissions – 137g/km CO2, Economy – 47.9 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 126mph, Acceleration – 9.2s 0-62mph, Price – £25,850 OTR, £32,770 as tested

For full details go to http://www.audi.co.uk

New KIA Soul ‘Mixx’ – Driven and Reviewed

new_kia_soul_mixx_red_black_sideLet’s face it – the inherent shape and dimensions of the first Soul was ‘slightly boxy’ – if you’re being kind, and ‘a bread van’ – if you’re not. With this New Soul, KIA haven’t completely deserted their original concept, but it’s certainly been ‘jazzed up’ (excuse the music-based pun) a bit.

Look Familiar?…….

The New Soul is unashamedly aimed at the ultra-lucrative ‘want-a-4×4-but-don’t-want-the-running-costs‘ market. Gone is the slightly dopey face of the Mk1, in its place is a far more determined look and an elongated version of the all-important ‘tiger nose’. Coupled with its bulgier, muscular bodywork, the New Soul is a far more visually attractive proposition than its predecessor, especially in this eye-catching ‘Mixx’ spec we have on test. Parked side-by-side, I was really surprised at how similar the New Soul was to the MINI Countryman – they may have come at it from completely different angles, but it’s interesting to see how two polar-opposite manufacturers can come to very similar conclusions regarding what the public wants.

In the Mixx

It may retail at nearly £20K (£19,750), but this model doesn’t represent the top of the Soul range – that’d be the Maxx. I’d say that if it’s total domination of all possible attention that you’re after, though – this will be the one to go for. The dual-colour, contrasting roof option is a brave move but it really works on the New Soul and fits in well with its youthful persona. It is only available on the Mixx (see what they’ve done there), in fact – if you want a monochromatic Soul – you’ll have to opt for one of the other trim levels.

The New Soul’s interior is a well thought out, funky place to be seen, with a better standard of plastics and design than you’d expect from previous Korean efforts. This isn’t just a generic dash and fascia that could be found in any number of similar models, it’s fresh, new and some real thought’s obviously been put into making the New Soul’s ‘in’ as eye-catching and original as the ‘out’.

Infinity audio system

......meanwhile, in Area 51

……meanwhile, in Area 51

All but the two cheapest model Souls come equipped with an 8 speaker Infinity audio system, complete with its very own amp and subwoofer. I’d have given a minor body-part to have my car kitted-out with an Infinity sound system when I was younger, and the make still holds major weight in the ‘tunes’ market today. The flashing speakers are possibly a little OTT (that could just be my age, though), but the noise that your Infinity equipped New Soul will make is ‘absolutely bangin”(or whatever the cool-kids are saying these days). It may not matter to some, but I was really impressed with the way this Infinity multimedia system has been personalised with the ‘Soul’ font, rather than using the standard one it’s manufactured with. For me, it’s little bits of attention to detail like this that make a car stand out from the competition.

new_kia_soul_mixx_red_black_rearThere’s plenty of head and leg room for all inhabitants of the New Soul, and anyone with young children will be thankful for the spine-friendly seat height that makes getting said-children in and out less of a chore. The trade-off for this voluminous living space is a bit of a pokey boot that, at 354l, is surprisingly stingy considering the shape of the car. It will fit a decent sized supermarket shop in – I tested this personally, but getting a modern buggy in – and the other paraphernalia that young children come with these days, will require some manoeuvring and possibly putting a rear seat down.

1.6l or 1.6l

In the very near future, an electric Soul (EV) will be available to buy, if that takes your fancy, but for the moment, the New Soul comes with a choice of two 1.6l fossil-fuel burners. There’s a petrol or a Diesel, the latter being available with an auto ‘box in Connect, Connect Plus and Mixx specs. Equipped with a manual ‘box, they both produce near-identical levels of power and performance (126bhp & 130bhp, 0-60mph in 10.6 & 10.81s respectively). The petrol variant does represent a £1,600 saving over the equivalent Diesel, and that would take some time to recoup, but for my money, I’d opt for the Diesel manual New Soul, like our test car. The extra low-down grunt (260Nm vs 161Nm), coupled with the less frequent trips to the petrol station (56.5mpg combined vs 41.5mpg) just about edges it in favour of the Diesel.

new_kia_soul_mixx_red_black_frontOn the road, the New Soul is surprisingly civilised, especially on the motorway. The Diesel engine is barely audible from the inside and, speaking of noise, KIA have done an admirable job of keeping wind noise to an absolute minimum. With such a square shape and over-sized door mirrors, you’d expect a fair amount of buffeting and whistling, increasing to levels of annoyance at higher speeds – not so, the New Soul – it’s whisper quiet (apart from your bangin’ Infinity tunes, of course).

new_kia_soul_mixx_red_black_badgeJust love those wheels

The ride is also far more settled and smooth than you’d expect from this type of car, again, even at 60mph+. Anyone slightly scared by the effect on ride quality that the very-cool 18” wheels on our test car might have – fear not! There’s no banging or crashing over bumps, even with the low-profile tyres; they make the New Soul look absolutely brilliant on the move, too – I’d tick that option box every time!

One thing the New Soul isn’t made for is break-neck performance. In the Diesel, first and second gear are nice and friendly, and 30mph comes around quickly enough, it’s when you venture into the higher gears that the Soul seems to struggle and there’s a distinct lack of oomph. With either engine choice, it’ll keep up well enough with traffic but don’t expect to break any records around the ‘Ring – not until a Soul’s made available with the turbo engine from the pro_cee’d GT, anyway.

new_kia_soul_mixx_red_black_rear_lightAt £19,750, the New Soul ‘Mixx’ couldn’t really be described as ‘cheap as chips’, no matter how funky it is. If you want the Diesel variant, you can get in a New Soul for a more wallet-friendly £16,400, or if you prefer your fuel unleaded, there’s a Soul that’ll only cost £12,600. Neither of these will be as fun or smile-inducing as the higher-specced models, but it’s still a decent bit of family friendly kit and that 7 year warranty still comes as standard across the range.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; KIA Soul ‘Mixx’, Transmission – 6 spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 126bhp, Torque – 260Nm, Emissions – 132g/km CO2, Economy – 56.5 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 112mph, Acceleration – 10.8s 0-60mph, Price – £19,750 OTR

For full details, go to http://www.kia.co.uk

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